State Ski Programs Target Next Generation of Skiers

“Come on! Let’s go get into the truck!” Anthony yells at the six of us brightly colored characters dispersed amongst a group of Kashmiris hanging out in front of our unofficial home for the next month, Gulmarg Resort Hotel. Today is my first day in Gulmarg and my mind is a little cloudy from the three days of travel. The plan is to check out a zone outside of Gulmarg past a military base. Nothing like getting face to face with the military on day one.

Boulder, CO, Aug. 21--More and more states are joining the free-lift-tickets-for-schoolkids bandwagon. But the question is: Are these programs actually translating into increased visits from the kids and their baby-boomer parents, and, more importantly, are these pre-teens becoming committed to snow sports?

Yes, probably, but solid numbers are hard to come by. For example, Ski New Hampshire, now in its fourth season of providing lift passes for fourth graders, says the number of participants is increasing, but it's not clear how many paying people are coming along. Last season, 744 students from 81 schools came compared to 580 from 64 schools the year before, according to Alice Pearce, executive director of Ski New Hampshire.

"Our primary purpose is to increase the number of schools and the participation. The secondary reason is to see how many paid people are coming along," says Pearce.

Resorts are trying other ways to tap into the teen-and-under market. At Waterville Valley three years ago, youth tickets were only $10. "We saw an increase in our kids' programs because parents thought it was more affordable to go skiing," says Stacey Lopes, Waterville's public relations supervisor. Now tickets are $19, but there are other things to attract young folks like a new terrain park and a new scaled-down halfpipe.

Maine resorts say their grassroots efforts are definitely working. According to a recent survey, 55 percent of sixth graders with discounted tickets said they increased their visits by 2.69 days. Also, 53 percent said parent visits were up by 2.4 days. "What we hope is happening is that we are turning students and their parents into skiers and our research shows that it's true," says Carla Marcus, executive director of Ski Maine For Kids.

Utah got almost 15,000 kids to participate in its various school programs last season. "The key is to stimulate the adult to ski as well and to provide some kind of follow-up program," says Kip Pitou, president of Ski Utah.

Despite uncertain results the programs show no sign of slowing down. Vermont's Sugarbush gives free passes to the top 10 percent of participating schools. "We want to get Vermonters out to ski at a younger age," says Scott Peterson, Sugarbush communications manager, who added that they believe at least half the time they're getting "a lift ticket in our pocket because someone is coming along."